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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 13, New Delhi, March 13, 2021

Review of Rashme Sehgal’s The Flower Seller of Ganeshpuri | Enakshi Ganguly

Friday 12 March 2021


Reviewed by Enakshi Ganguly *

The Flower Seller of Ganeshpuri
by Rashme Sehgal
Mahanadi Books. 2020
[ Available via Amazon]

Indians love visiting religious destinations. Pilgrims are invited to explore sacred places. The sacred temple of Swami Nityananda who died in 1961 is located in the small village of Ganeshpri around 80 kilometres north of Mumbai and has emerged as a hub for pilgrims from across the world.

Each of these pilgrim centres has a vast tribe of service providers who peddle all kinds of wares including flowers and garlands used to adorn the presiding deities.
Ganeshpuri is no exception. It has grown to become a bustling temple village, with cars and vans and buses filled with pilgrims that fill the single road leading to it.
Rashme Sehgal presents the life and living as seen through the eyes of a flower seller in Ganeshpuri, through 54 poems - short and long. The flower seller has his shop just outside the Gavdevi temple located some distance from the main temple. His vision of the world is created by his own drab life and those of the thousands of pilgrims who flock there.

The motifs that stay with the reader of the poems is the red BEST bus with pilgrims bumping around inside since they are being driven on uneven roads, the image of the yellow and orange marigolds and of the river Tansa that helps keep “Lamentation is kept at bay/ Selling flowers is his means to salvation/This is the path to redemption/ It lies between the road and the moving river”(53).

Rashme Sehgal started her career as a poet and a writer in the 1970s, following which she became a journalist and remains one of those who retains an independent voice as she continues to write about issues of human rights violations, development and environment, violence against women and children and other marginalised groups. The Flower Seller of Ganeshpuri is her third collection of poetry.

Asha Kasbekar who writes on popular culture and has taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies London writes in her Preface to the book, “The flower seller at the Gavdevi temple bears witness to the transient world of pilgrims as they travel up and down the dusty main road… the verses tenderly thread together conflicting worlds- where commerce clashes with charity; the material with the spiritual; the secular with the religious; power with powerlessness; dharma/duty with desire, the fleeting with the permanent; stillness with frenetic activity. The poems are a deeply compassionate observation of the human condition.”

This can be seen in lines such as “Garlands made from marigolds/Go for more affordable rates/ Profit margins are slender these days/ Thank god there is no GST on flowers” (13) and “He has nothing to show for his twenty years of labour/ No brick and mortar house/ No refrigerator No colour TV…..He somehow manages to keep himself alive…(36)

Literary critic and author Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr. in his introduction says that “the poems are bare but brimming with the ironies of life, political as well as personal. “He goes on to add, “what she tackles in these poems is the sense of wonder and piety than an ordinary person in an ordinary world, with its own distractions and contradictions, feels, and almost every day in an age where the intellectual certainty is the death of god”.

Rao’s line, “In defiance of the intellectual temper of the age, religiosity lingers” resonates when I read the poems and follow the life of the flower seller, his struggles and his relationship with the divine. Sehgal writes in poem 50, “In this whirlwind of temptation and slight/ Months have lengthened into years/ Nityananda remains the beacon of his life”

Because Ganeshpuri is synonymous with Swami Nityananda, his omnipresent presence in the poems cannot be missed. More so because the author herself shares a special relationship with the patron saint of this village. Her familiarity with the landscape, the environment and the people of this area -those who live there and those who visit- are visible through the poems.

Like the flower seller, I have always wondered since my childhood how are flowers that can be offered to the gods and goddesses chosen. Why is it that bougainvillea which comes in such beautiful colours is not deemed fit for offering and why it is that roses and marigolds continue to enjoy prime preference.

The flower seller asks this question to himself. He reciprocates my feelings when he says, “One day I will pick the courage to ask Hanuman/ Why he doesn’t wear a garland/ Made from bougainvillea flowers” (17). Exactly. Why not?

* (Enakshi Ganguly is Co-Director of HAQ Centre for Child Rights)

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